What is “Being Informed”?

This isn’t about spam. It isn’t even really about permission, but more about a tangential issue surrounding the thorny dilemma of how to usefully inform the largest number of people of a product change while simultaneously not pissing off any appreciable fraction of your user-base. The bigger the user-base, the bigger the problem. I recently had an interaction with Facebook, which has a staggeringly huge user-base, that got me thinking about this issue.

There is a new feature that Facebook has enabled that filters your news feed based on whether or not you have recently interacted with one of your “friends”. This was a complete surprise to me, and explains some stuff that had been puzzling me about my Facebook news-feed lately. I objected, on my FB Wall, saying that I would have expected to have been informed of such a change. FB replied that the change was widely requested, had been publicized on team and product pages, and that is it documented in the Help pages. He posed the question: “Where would you have looked for it, or how would you have wanted to be told this sort of thing?”

Well, ok. I thought this over for a while, and came up with the following: To me, being informed of a major product or privacy policy change means that the information is pushed to me, and I should not have to go looking for explanations of updates for big-impact changes. To answer his specific question: in this particular situation, I feel that a message to my Facebook inbox from Facebook Development staff would have been appropriate, or else one of those floating boxes at the top of my feed that they’ve previously used to announce other changes. I would not have “gone looking” for anything at all, because I didn’t have a concrete problem that would have provoked me into searching for a solution. I just thought that my friends weren’t posting much, or that my posts were more than usually boring, so no-one was replying to me.

A counter-example would be when Facebook rolled out the new Profile look. There was a notice at the top of my feed, announcing the change and inviting me to take a tour of the new features. If I remember correctly, there was even the option to roll it back to the older Profile look if you didn’t like the new one.

My bank recently rolled out some major new feature. Rather than relying on email to get the message out, what they chose to do was to have a temporary screen inserted between my log-in and accounts, with a brief description of the new offering, and the option to click a link to learn more, or to decline and move on to my account overview. If I declined, it told me that I could opt-in to using it in future if I wished, and told me where to look to enable the feature should I change my mind.

Each approach is different and yields a different user “experience”.

End users are tricky and capricious creatures that are increasingly burned out. What about y’all? How would you define “being informed” in this sort of context? What approach(es) to informing you, as a user, would make you feel up-to-date and happy?

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